~ by Rob Lester
Last week’s Person of the Week, Susan Winter, appears not just this Friday, but in this month’s Cabaret Convention, just one singer in the opening night of the annual series of concerts at Jazz at Lincoln Center at Columbus Circle. With shows over four consecutive nights and partnered events — like a sole encore performance of the Mabel Mercer biographical stage piece, Mabel Madness, at Urban Stages —– the cabaret-crammed cornucopia of creative communication in the intimate style is stylishly presented. It comes courtesy of the Mabel Mercer Foundation, named for the stylist who was born one month into the 20th century and became the epitome of the genre’s special way of singing to connect intensely and immensely with lyrics and audiences.
It’s a tradition continued by singers such as Susan Winter at clubs like NYC’s Metropolitan Room where she appears October 7 in her solo show (and the open mic she co-hosts on Sunday) and where the previous Sunday the Foundation’s Artistic Director KT Sullivan dropped in to the taping of David Kenney’s Everything Old Is New Again weekly WBAI radio show to talk about the Convention and give away pairs of tickets to the shows to in-person attendees as part of a random raffle ticket drawing.
Speaking of lucky winners.. Let’s see what you know about “Conventioneers” with the same or similar names. That brings us to the contest. These are ALL “TRUE OR FALSE” questions, so you have a pretty darn good chance of getting some right, right off the bat with lucky guesses if you are a cabaret-challenged non-maven. Enter by E-mailing me — firstname.lastname@example.org — those with the most correct win free cabaret CDs! Number your replies to match the numbers of these statements with the word “True” or “False” after each number. If we are deluged with brilliant, well-informed, psychic or over-Googling readers who get ’em all right, several winners will be drawn at random —— if we can find a volunteer sketch artist and you are willing to pose….Meanwhile, we’ll pose these questions. Ready?
#1—True or False?: In an exclusive interview with NiteLife Exchange, KT Sullivan admitted that the letter “S” –as in “Sullivan” and “singer” and “superstitious” — is her good luck superstition all-important initial …..
and that is why she insisted that the icons paid tribute to in the Convention’s themed shows this year were chosen because they had S as the initial of their first or last names (“Or, better yet, both!” she exclaimed to us with devilish glee). Thus, the evenings are salutes to Stephen Sondheim, Sylvia Syms, Charles Strouse, and Sheldon Harnick.
#2—True or False?: October 18’s Cabaret Convention impressive opening night roster includes Reed players — and we don’t mean clarinetists. Both Vivian Reed and T. Oliver Reid. Although their last names –their official stage names —are spelled a bit differently, they are first cousins and the original spelling of their real last name is Reade. But when she applied for her Actors Equity union membership, there was already a registered performer called Vivian Reade, so…………. she signed up with the last named spelled R-E-E-D.
Meanwhile (keep Reade-ing….), Vivian’s talented cousin originally was billed under the actual spellings of his given name, Duane Reade, but after being teased at a drug store near the Broadway theatre where he was performing, he changed the spelling to Reid, and when that didn’t help much, he adopted the moniker T. Oliver in honor of his favorite kind of shirt and his favorite Broadway musical. (This is a similar situation to two other cousins in the Convention who spell their last names a bit differently: Eric Michael Gillett and Anita Gillette. My own cousin and fellow reviewer, Marilyn Lester, reminds me that Anita added a final letter to her last name as advised by a numerologist. In her act, she jokes that the numerologist sent her the E by E-mail. It always gets a huge laugh.)
#3—True or False?: Although they were once billed as “The Singing Cabaret Twins,” Will and Anthony Nunziata are not twins, are not brothers, are not related, and are not even Italian. They are childhood friends who changed their names and fudged their background as a gimmick that worked very well indeed. Their real names are Wilhelm Von Schtufferheimer and Anton Chekhov Kruschevski and they never professionally sang any American cabaret standards— or even knew any— until they left their native Sweden in 2012 and were discovered by Julie Wilson who heard them singing Japanese songs in an Irish karaoke bar on a trip to the Congo and encouraged them to learn some Gershwin songs phonetically, which they continue to strive to do.
#4—True or False?: Kim David Smith, appearing on that October 18 opening night, is the adopted son of the late Mabel Mercer Foundation founder, Donald Smith, who raised him as a single parent since he was given the responsibility by the child’s mother, a cabaret singer from Australia whom Donald befriended in one of the years several stars from down under appeared in the Convention. Although she prefers to ever remain anonymous, it is no secret how that Foundation founder found the babe’s name.
Daddy Donald combined the names of two famous people who were on the cover of People magazine the day the adoption decision was made: Kim Jong-il, supreme leader of North Korea, and David Cassidy, although the younger Smith draws more inspiration from namesakes Kardshian and Bowie, but honors his father, the godfather of cabaret, by now changing his name to Kim Donald Smith and has done some adopting himself—a stray dog with a subtle bark named Mabel.
Christina Bianco in a photo by Russ Weatherford.
#5—-True or False?: October 18’s Convention opening night also features the singer/actress/impressionist Christina Bianco and the 15-year-old marvel Joie (Josephine) Bianco. They are indeed mother and daughter, but Joie has been raised in Iceland by relatives ever since her parents Christina and Rocco Bianco divorced on the day she was born, and Joie and Christina never met until two years ago when both happened to show up to sign up to come up to the open mic at Jim Caruso’s Birdland Cast Party, Christina on a night off from from an off-Broadway show and Joie was visiting New York on a class trip with fellow students from Reykjavic Junior High. Coincidentally, they both came in with sheet music to the same country song, “You Don’t Know Me.”
#6—True or False?: Because dressing rooms backstage were assigned last year by an intern who just put the singers’ first names on post-it signs on the doors, there was mass confusion, same-named divas receiving the wrong bouquets of flowers, and an awkward moment when one star walked into what was assumed to be “my private dressing room” and found a singer with the same first name and the same assumption just in pink lace panties and a corset and no make-up. (We promised not to reveal the guy’s name here.) To avoid any such confusion or anxiety, stars were promised this years that no two singers with the same first name would be booked on the same night. That is why Eric Michael Gillett, Eric Yves Garcia and Eric Comstock (an Eric who must slog through show business with no middle name) all have iron-clad clauses into their contracts that they will sing and undress on separate nights—likewise Cabaret Convention regulars Karen Akers and Karen Oberlin. Following suit are Josephines Sanges and Bianco, Sue Raney/Susan Winter, and—despite the presence or lack of an “e” as a final letter, Carol Woods and Carole J. Bufford. (Miss Bufford says in her patter that she got the extra E by E-mail, which always gets a big laugh from her audiences who haven’t seen Anita Gillette’s show.) Carol Woods also checked surnames, a little wary of Barbara Carroll being booked on her night, although Barbara Fasano was relieved that she didn’t have that fate.
#7– True or False?: The aforementioned KT Sullivan appears on opening night, October 18, with MAC Award-winning singer Stacy Sullivan who is commonly assumed to be her sister, but was actually an orphaned neighbor taken in (but never adopted by) kindly James and Elizabeth Sullivan after Stacy’s real parents, Roger and Hannah Stein, were tragically killed in a freak storm-related accident in Oklahoma when the wind came sweeping down the plain and the waving wheat blew with monumental force into the windows of their cabin, causing death to both from a gluten overdose.
Little Stacy Esmerelda Stein grew up singing to the pigs on the Sullivan farm to brighten her lonely days and longed to leave Boggy Depot for the bright lights of Slaughterville or Locust Grove or even —when she dared to dream big— Wapanucka. But it was the bright lights of the Boggy Depot Community Theatre & Grille that drew her to roles on the stage. In Gypsy, she auditioned for the role of little blonde Baby June, but was cast as June’s domineering stage mother, Rose, although she was only nine. She remembers thinking, “Someday I will be the pretty blonde performer with cute curly hair instead in a big city like Manhattan, U.S.A. And if I can’t be successful in that way, I’ll give birth to a daughter like that.” KT had built a small cabaret on the front porch and was encouraging Stacy to sing Mabel Mercer songs, which she did once in a blue moon. Every Sunday night, they watched big-time singers on a TV variety show and KT would pretend that the host, Ed Sullivan, was related to them and would put them both on the show. It never happened, but the famous man’s nephew, Sol Sullivan, came to town to visit a college friend and met and fell in love with and married Stacy Stein and she took her husband’s name and became known as Stacy Sullivan, KT bought her 50 Peggy Lee albums as a wedding present. Is that all there is, my friend? No, the rest is cabaret history.
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Contributors to this website are not eligible to win or whine.
TICKETS AT THE BOX OFFICE OR WWW.MABELMERCER.ORG
Cabaret Convention runs OCTOBER 18-21 –ALL SHOWS AT 6 PM
Here’s the full list of performers:
Wednesday, October 19th: Saluting Stephen Sondheim, hosted by Jeff Harnar & Andrea Marcovicci. With Karen Akers, Raissa Katona Bennett, Celia Berk, Kevin Dozier, Eric Michael Gillett, Sally Mayes, Donna McKechnie, Aaron Morishita, Marissa Mulder, Sidney Myer, Anthony Nunziata, Will Nunziata, Sarah Rice, Julie Reyburn, Steve Ross, Marta Sanders, Josephine Sanges, Jennifer Sheehan, Maureen Taylor, and Iris Williams.
Thursday, October 20th: Saluting Sylvia Syms, hosted by Rex Reed. With Joyce Breach, Ann Hampton Callaway, Barbara Carroll, Maud Hixson, Nicolas King, Jay Leonhart, Marilyn Maye, Sue Raney, Daryl Sherman, Billy Stritch, Carol Woods, and Tom Wopat.
Friday, October 21st: Saluting Sheldon Harnick and Charles Strouse, hosted by Klea Blackhurst. With Corinna Sowers Adler, Broadway by the Year Chorus, Eric Comstock, Scott Coulter, Joshua Lance Dixon, Shana Farr, Liam Forde, Penny Fuller, Zoe Gelman, Anita Gillette, Valerie Lemon, Stearns Matthews, Marieann Meringolo, Lena Moy-Borgen, Todd Murray, Shawn Ryan, Lauren Stanford, Joanne Tatham, and Amra-Faye Wright. Presentation of The Julie Wilson Award, underwritten by Linda and Peter Hanson. Presentation of The Margaret Whiting Award, underwritten by My Ideal Music.